Climate change subscribers say the fight against global warming will require younger soldiers.
On Monday, the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit group that denounces intelligent design and supports an evolution-only curriculum in the classroom, will expand its mission. The organization of scientists, anthropologists and others is turning its attention to climate change, and it will mount an aggressive effort to teach the nation’s schoolchildren that climate change is real and is being driven by human activity.
“For 20 years, we’ve helped teachers cope with what we can only describe as societal or political problems in teaching evolution. They’re running into the same opposition in teaching climate change,” NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott said. “We worry, because of our experience with evolution, that basic science is going to be compromised as a result of this political and ideological opposition. Good science needs to be taught.”
Critics point out important distinctions between the defense of evolution and the promotion of climate change, since the latter carries more obvious and immediate policy implications. Alarmists call for broad federal policies to combat climate change, such as President Obama’s proposed “cap-and-trade” legislation, which is designed to limit carbon emissions. Although that measure is on hold, a law imposed by the European Union requires all airline companies to pay for their carbon emissions during flights in and out of Europe. Officials at the United Nations have even called for a global tax on carbon dioxide emissions.
Ms. Scott maintains that the NCSE won’t advocate for teachers to push liberal policy solutions to climate change, but others fear that students will be targets of political indoctrination.
“If you say it’s man-made, you must be implying some solutions. [Climate change] is taught to promote a particular political point of view, and that’s the problem,” said Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based conservative education think tank.
“It’s very different than the evolution debate. The whole evolution versus intelligent design debate very much relates to the issues of separation of church and state. Climate change is different because it doesn’t touch on that at all. It comes from an environmentalist perspective.”
Ms. Porter-Magee said such efforts essentially amount to “the politicization of curriculum.”
Even if schools don’t explicitly call for cap-and-trade or similar measures, she said, students could bombarded with strong subliminal messages to take action against climate change.
Textbooks and other materials geared toward the youngest students already are peddled to school leaders.
The University of California at Berkeley operates the website globalwarmingkids.net, a subsection of its climatechangeeducation.org initiative. On the website, instructors can order “Global Warming for Young Minds,” a handbook aimed at 6- to 10-year-olds. It also offers “Let’s Stop Climate Change” DVDs, in which a hippopotamus named Simon encourages children to take action against global warming.
Despite those efforts, principals, superintendents and school boards retain the final say about what their students are taught. Unlike the fights between evolution and intelligent design, the curriculum has no legal backing.
After a school board in Dover, Pa., voted in 2004 to require that biology classes teach creationism alongside evolution, the issue eventually ended up before a federal judge in a closely watched case with national implications. Judge John E. Jones III ultimately ruled that intelligent design, by its nature, is a religious theory and its teaching in classrooms violated the First Amendment.
“There is no comparable provision for climate change. It’s not unconstitutional to teach bad science,” Ms. Scott said. “I don’t see any legal recourse, as we have with the First Amendment for [the teaching of] evolution.”
With no legal defense, the NCSE and other groups instead will launch a public relations effort. If it is successful, climate change skeptics could become a small minority and might be derided for their beliefs.
Some already have faced persecution. Last week, Reuters news service reported that actor and conservative economist Ben Stein filed a $300,000 lawsuit against Japanese manufacturer Kyocera after, he said, the company booted him from an advertising campaign when it learned he doesn’t subscribe to the theory that humans are responsible for climate change.
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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